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(Opinion Letter to the editor)
TO MODERNIZE ELECTIONS, MASSACHUSETTS NEEDS ELECTION DAY REGISTRATION
A state’s ability to ensure an easy path to the ballot box determines the strength of its democratic functions. If this is the case then the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is behind.
Every single election Massachusetts along with 29 other states in the U.S. disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of its own citizens by not offering Election Day Registration (EDR). In Massachusetts alone, 170,000 citizens are unable to cast their ballot due to not having EDR. The Commonwealth is not only depriving those that want to vote on Election Day the capability to do so, but also pushing them away from becoming involved in our democratic process.
EDR, also commonly known as Same Day Registration (SDR) allows voters who are not yet registered to do so on Election Day, at the polls, and be allowed to vote subsequently. The initiative also allows for an individual to correct and or fix errors in their registration. Since its conception in 1973, 20 states have joined with more like New York soon to be added onto the list.
Some may confuse EDR with Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), two different systems that are complimentary of each other. AVR works at the "front end" to enroll new voters for elections yet to take place. EDR works at the "back end" as a fail-safe measure to allow voters to address registration issues when they vote.
EDR has a proven track record across the nation. In 2010 over 640,000 people nationwide used EDR on Election Day. On a municipal level in 2016 30,000 Chicagoan's were able to register and cast their ballot using EDR. On a state level and to our north in 2018, 50,000 people in New Hampshire utilized EDR.
Yet most of these people interacting with EDR are not new voters. The most critical part of it all is that most people affected by EDR are registered beforehand but have moved and or have clerical errors such as a misspelled name, wrong apartment number and or similar issues. In a study with Non-Profit Vote, it found that two-thirds of those who used EDR were those simply correcting and or updating their registration.
In terms of costs, many states have found little to none. EDR states report that the service costs for registering same-day offsets with less provisional balloting staffing and printing. For minimal start up costs Massachusetts has over nearly 40 million in Help America Vote Act Funds (HAVA). As of now that is the most HAVA funds a state has in the nation.
Even top administrators such as former Massachusetts Town Clerks Association President Lina Hutchenrider of Barnstable believe EDR is easier than the provisional balloting process stating, "Instead of there being a great confusion and individuals needing a provisional ballot and signing 75 sheets, let them just fill out the card, vote and that's it."
According to the recently released report “America Goes to the Polls 2018” prepared by Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project, in 2018 Massachusetts moved down in the rankings, from 14th place to 17th place. Despite this fall Massachusetts performed 10 percentage points higher than in 2014 from 50 to 60 percent in 2018. Although our turnout may be higher, more states are taking greater action on making the ballot box more accessible.
The recent study showed that seven of the top ten states with the highest turnout offer EDR. Altogether states with EDR policies had turnout rates seven percentage points higher than non-EDR states. In New England VT (#11), NH (#15) & ME (#6) clocked in the top fifteen for voter turnout and all unsurprisingly offer EDR.
On Beacon Hill the Senate has passed EDR not once, not twice but three different times. In a time of political uncertainty, we must have leadership in the House that can rise to the occasion. As a living legacy of the civil right acts of 1965, MassVOTE urges the House to be a model for democracy and lead not just the Commonwealth but the nation once again.
Policy Director MassVOTE
(The report America Goes to the Polls 2018” prepared by Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project can be found at https://www.nonprofitvote.org/america-goes-to-the-polls-2018/)